Happily ever after sometimes involves blending two families together. In today’s global world, where love is just a dating blog away, the families that blend are more diverse than ever. In addition to loved ones, these relationships are blending cultures and traditions. Before moving in together, there are certain rules and precautions the parental figures should discuss to help ease the transition.
The earliest goal in a blended family should always be that everyone feels comfortable and safe in the home. To expect more, especially with older children, is unrealistic at first. There are certain ground rules or principles that must be adhered to by all in order to help one another adjust to a new home with new people.
#1 Ground rule: Treat each other with respect.
No matter the age of the children and adults that are coming together, there must first be a clear expectation of respect. There cannot be any transitional period where a child is allowed to mistreat the new family members “until they get used to each other.” The rule must be strictly enforced and practiced by the children and the adults. Things said out of fear or anger early on can taint the step-parent/step-child relationship for a long time.
It is okay to tell the child that they do not have to like the new family members. After growing up with all of these Maleficent movies, do you expect them to trust a step-parent right away? Let the kids know that no matter how they feel about the step-parent in the family, they have to show respect and be polite. Remind the struggling child that this situation is new for the adults, too. They do not have to like each other but they all need to be able to feel comfortable and safe in the new situation.
#2 Ground rule: Everyone needs their space.
This is a very important to children of blended families. I understand that in some homes with many children, a child having their own room is not possible or preferred. What each person in a new blended family needs is some kind of private space where they can get away and decompress. It is not easy for some to get used to more people and more noise. People can become overstimulated. It is ok if a kid finds a nook somewhere in the house and goes there alone sometimes. Make sure everyone in the home has a place like this.
#3 Ground rule: Show up for Family Time
Ground rules one and two must be in place before this rule becomes enforced. If the family is eating dinner together, everyone needs to come to the table to eat. While at the table, everyone must be polite and respectful. Within these parameters, everyone can get to know each other a little better. In some cases, just talking together about mundane subjects like sports or books can make a big difference. For those who are struggling, having a private space to which they can retreat afterwards will help them unwind when family time is over.
#4 Ground rule: Do not overstep boundaries
Ground rule #4 is for the step-parents in a newly blended family. In the beginning, you are entitled to respect, as long as you’ve demonstrated respect to the step-kids. Do not interfere with the biological parent/child discipline, but remain present by your new partners side. Whenever any discipline or talks happen, it is important that the adults present a united front. By standing together, you both ensure that the child cannot play you against each other or disrespect your partner. Any objections or disagreements you have can be discussed with your partner privately.
Down the road, the role of a step-parent can begin to unfold like a coach or counselor, united with the parent but with a clear separation so that the children do not think the step parent is trying to replace the biological parent. In many cases – with these ground rules in place – the relationships do grow to develop a real parent/child bond over time. This bond cannot be forced.
#5 Ground rule: Co-parenting: The children always come first
The rules for blended families do not stop at your front door. The children often have other custodial parents as well as visitation schedules, split holidays, and other arrangements. The adults in the situation need to all agree that the children come first. Do not badmouth each other or argue in front of the children. Passive aggressive remarks about the non-custodial parents are always internalized by the children and cannot lead to anything positive.
Children may react badly to the split or the new step-parent. That is ok. They’re children and they will act like children sometimes. It is up to the adults involved to act like adults so that the children can safely and securely move forward with their new blended family.
Blending a family isn’t always easy, even when done right. The above rules cannot solve every problem in every situation, but what they can do is lend some stability to a situation that a child may go into with some resentment. During all of this, try to keep the romance alive between the two parents that are making this leap together. You knew it was going to be difficult, but it will also be worth it.